New research study reveals deadly surgical gender gap

surgical gender gap
Photo by Piron Guillaume on Unsplash

New research has revealed that there is a deadly surgical gender gap when it comes to who performs an operation, with women being much more likely to experience complications, be readmitted to hospital and even die if a man is performing the procedure instead of another woman.

Women’s complications occur 15% more and deaths have a 32% increase when a man rather than a woman carries out the surgery, according to a study of 1.3 million patients. Following on from the results, a huge debate has begun over the fact that surgery, particularly in the UK, is massively male-dominated and claims that “implicit sex biases” among male surgeons may help explain exactly why women are at much greater risk when they have an operation.

“In our 1.3 million patient sample involving nearly 3,000 surgeons we found that female patients treated by male surgeons had 15% greater odds of worse outcomes than female patients treated by female surgeons,” said Dr Angela Jerath, an associate professor and clinical epidemiologist at the University of Toronto in Canada and a co-author of the findings when speaking to The Guardian.


“This result has real-world medical consequences for female patients and manifests itself in more complications, readmissions to hospital and death for females compared with males. We have demonstrated in our paper that we are failing some female patients and that some are unnecessarily falling through the cracks with adverse, and sometimes fatal, consequences.”

The surgical gender gap findings have been published in the medical journal JAMA Surgery.

Jerath added: “These results are concerning because there should be no sex difference in patient outcomes regardless of the surgeon’s sex.

“On a macro level, the results are troubling. When a female surgeon operates, patient outcomes are generally better, particularly for women, even after adjusting for differences in chronic health status, age and other factors, when undergoing the same procedures.”

The study has been hailed as the first of its kind to examine the association between the sex of the patient, the sex of their surgeon and the outcomes of surgery. Despite the huge jumps in risk of death or complication for women, men experienced no differences whether they were treated by a male or female surgeon, reported The Guardian.

Technical differences between male and female surgeons are unlikely to explain the findings “as both sexes undergo the same technical medical training”, said Jerath. “Implicit sex biases”, in which surgeons “act on subconscious, deeply ingrained biases, stereotypes and attitudes”, maybe one possible explanation, she said. Differences in men’s and women’s communication and interpersonal skills evident in surgeons’ discussions with patients before the operation takes place may also be a factor, she added. And “differences between male and female physician work style, decision-making and judgment”.

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